Anne Killigrew

Anne Killigrew Biography

Anne Killigrew was an English poet. Born in London, Killigrew is perhaps best known as the subject of a famous elegy by the poet John Dryden entitled To The Pious Memory of the Accomplish'd Young Lady Mrs. Anne Killigrew (1686). She was however a skilful poet in her own right, and her Poems were published posthumously in 1686. Dryden compared her poetic abilities to the famous Greek poet of antiquity, Sappho. Killigrew died of smallpox aged 25.

Early Life and Inspiration

Anne Killigrew was born in early 1660, before the Restoration, at St. Martin's Lane in London England. Not much is known about her mother Judith Killigrew, but her father Dr. Henry Killigrew has published several sermons and poems as well as a play called The Conspiracy. Her two paternal uncles were also published playwrights. Sir William Killigrew (1606–1695) published two collections of plays and Thomas Killigrew (1612–1683) not only wrote plays but built the theatre now known as Drury Lane. Her father and her uncles had close connections with the Stuart Court, serving Charles I, Charles II, and his Queen, Catherine of Braganza. Anne was made a personal attendant, before her death, to Mary of Modena, Duchess of York.

Little is recorded about Anne’s education, but it is common fact she kept up with her social class, and she had received instruction in both poetry and painting in which she excelled. Her theatrical background added to her used of shifting voices in her poetry. In John Dryden’s Ode to Anne he points out that “Art she had none, yet wanted none. For Nature did that want supply” (Stanza V). Killigrew most likely got her education through studying the Bible, Greek mythology, and philosophy. Mythology was often expressed throughout her paintings and poetry.

Inspiration for Killigrew’s poetry came from her knowledge of Greek myths and Biblical proverbs as well as from some very influential female poets who lived during the Restoration period: Katherine Philips and Anne Finch (also a maid to Mary of Modena at the same time as Killigrew). Mary of Modena encouraged the French tradition of precieuses (patrician women intellectuals) which pressed women’s participation in theatre, literature, and music. In effect, Killigrew was surrounded with a poetic feminist inspiration on a daily basis in Court: she was encompassed by strong intelligent women who encouraged her writing career as much as their own.

With this motivation came a short book of only thirty-three poems published soon after her death by her father. It was not abnormal for poets, especially for women, never to see their work published in their lifetime. Since Killigrew died at the young age of 25 she was only able to produce a small collection of poetry. In fact, the last three poems were only found among her papers and it is still being debated about whether or not they were actually written by her. Inside the book is also a self painted portrait of Anne and the Ode by family friend and poet John Dryden.

The Poet and Painter

Anne Killigrew excelled in multiple media. It is said that she has painted a total of 15 paintings; only four are known to exist today. They are all based on biblical and mythological imagery. It is unknown whether she based the poems on the paintings, or whether she had painted the paintings to complement her poetry. Both share an emphasis on nature and suggest female rebellion in a male-dominated society.

All of her poetry has beautiful and potent imagery, but she has often been criticized for having used well worn and conventional topics such as death, love, and the human condition. Alexander Pope, a prominent critic as well as the leading poet of the time, labelled her work “crude” and “unsophisticated.” So, the question has frequently been raised: is Killigrew so deserving of such an immortalizing Ode by Dryden? Had he even read her poetry to properly determine her skills? Some say Dryden defended all poets as teachers of moral truths, and therefore Killigrew, despite her lack of experience, deserved his praise. However, evidence shows that she might not have been ready to see some of her work published, such as the unfinished poem “Alexandreis,” about Alexander the Great. At the end of the poem, she expresses the feeling that the task was too great for her to take on and she would try to finish it at another time. Then, there is the question of the last three poems that were found among her papers. They seem to be in her handwriting, which is why Killigrew’s father added them to her book. The poems are about the despair the author has for another woman, and could possibly be autobiographical if they are in fact by Killigrew. Some of her other poems are about failed friendships, possibly with Anne Finch, so this assumption may have some validity.

An early death

Killigrew died of smallpox on 16 June 1685, when she was only 25 years old. She is buried in the Chancel of the Savoy Chapel (dedicated to St John the Baptist) where a monument was built in her honour, but has since been destroyed by a fire.

The Best Poem Of Anne Killigrew

On Death

Tell me thou safest End of all our Woe,
Why wreched Mortals do avoid thee so:
Thou gentle drier o'th' afflicteds Tears,
Thou noble ender of the Cowards Fears;
Thou sweet Repose to Lovers sad dispaire,
Thou Calm t'Ambitions rough Tempestuous Care.
If in regard of Bliss thou wert a Curse,
And then the Joys of Paradise art worse;
Yet after Man from his first Station fell,
And God from Eden Adam did expel,
Thou wert no more an Evil, but Relief;
The Balm and Cure to ev'ry Humane Grief:
Through thee (what Man had forfeited before)
He now enjoys, and ne'r can loose it more.



No subtile Serpents in the Grave betray,
Worms on the Body there, not Soul do prey;
No Vice there Tempts, no Terrors there afright,
No Coz'ning Sin affords a false delight:
No vain Contentions do that Peace annoy,
No feirce Alarms break the lasting Joy.



Ah since from thee so many Blessings flow,
Such real Good as Life can never know;
Come when thou wilt, in thy afrighting'st Dress,
Thy Shape shall never make thy Welcome less.
Thou mayst to Joy, but ne'er to Fear give Birth,
Thou Best, as well as Certain'st thing on Earth.
Fly thee? May Travellers then fly their Rest,
And hungry Infants fly the profer'd Brest.
No, those that faint and tremble at thy Name,
Fly from their Good on a mistaken Fame.
Thus Childish fear did Israel of old
From Plenty and the Promis'd Land with-hold;
They fancy'd Giants, and refus'd to go,
When Canaan did with Milk and Honey flow.

Anne Killigrew Comments

This is a good poem 06 June 2019

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This is a good poem 06 June 2019

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Ernest Lee Clary 25 September 2011

Rest in peace Dear Anne.

3 1 Reply
Kevin Casey 25 September 2009

anne looks as if she did not dwell on earth for very long and suggested courting death, as do many that traverse into battle facing embracing the surest of all things, it is the biggest shock to everyone at the point of realisation that in this mortal coil we do not dwell for ever, iremember a slight sulleness, when i had to explain to my own children that this is not permanent, i dont think that any one ever gets over it, thus the degrees by which every one plans their own demise like a wedding, that definatley will take place, the confrontation is something that beats on the very souland the degree to which some will go for imposition of this wedding is really exeplified in lines 2 and 24 amazing personell account of some one that is building up layers of protection from her fate by developing a resolve as do soldiers going into battle this on the other hand could just be an observation as she may have been paid to write these pros, , an observation penned that in a kaikaze style, even those that act cowardly know of it and may be cowardly because they truly do love life and do not want to leave, consider that so many give up their lives and make preparation for it in a personnal way, but if one was born where one did not know of death because there was no death and no one ever showed any one how to die theoretically how could one die because they would not have been shown or contemplate this subject it realism, which comes from realise and so forth and so forth, mushrooms and flowers earth and heaven every aspect of this planet is to do with perfection and not being able to attain it death has grooms and ushers

2 2 Reply
Harrison Gwendo 26 September 2006

I LOVE THE POEM AND WISH TO RECEIVE MORE FROM HER

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